Daniel 5

CHAPTER V

In the commencement of this chapter we are informed how

Belshazzar, the grandson of Nebuchadnezzar, when rioting in his

palace, and profaning the severed vessels of the temple, 1-4,

was suddenly terrified with the appearance of the fingers of a

man's hand, which wrote a few words on the wall before him,

5, 6.

The wise men and astrologers were immediately called in to show

the king the interpretation; but they could not so much as read

the writing, because (as Houbigant and others have conjectured)

though the words are in the Chaldee tongue, yet they were

written in the Samaritan or ancient Hebrew characters, with

which the wise men of Babylon were very probably unacquainted,

as the Jews were at that time a despised people, and the

knowledge of their language not a fashionable attainment, 7-9.

Daniel, who had been so highly esteemed by Nebuchadnezzar for

his superior wisdom, appears to have been altogether unknown to

Belshazzar, till the queen (the same who had been the wife of

Nebuchadnezzar according to the general opinion, or the queen

consort according to others) had informed him, 10-12.

Upon the queen's recommendation, Daniel is called in, 13-16;

who boldly tells this despotic king, that as he had not

benefited by the judgments inflicted on his grandfather, but

gave himself up to pride and profanity, and had added to his

other sins an utter contempt for the God of the Jews by

drinking wine out of the sacred vessels of Jehovah in honour of

his idols, 17-23;

the Supreme Being, the Ruler of heaven and earth, had written

his condemnation in three words, MENE, TEKEL, PERES, 24, 25;

the first of which is repeated in the copies containing the

Chaldean original; but all the ancient Versions, except the

Syriac, are without this repetition. Daniel then gives the king

and his lords the fearful import of the writing, viz., that the

period allotted for the duration of the Chaldean empire was now

completed, (see Jer 25:12-14,)

and that the kingdom was about to be transferred to the Medes

and Persians, 26-28.

However unwelcome such an interpretation must have been to

Belshazzar, yet the monarch, overwhelmed with its clearness and

certainty, commanded the prophet to be honoured, 29.

And that very night the prediction was fulfilled, for the king

was slain, 30,

and the city taken by the Medes and Persians, 31.

This great event was also predicted by Isaiah and Jeremiah; and

the manner in which it was accomplished is recorded by

Herodotus and Xenophon.

NOTES ON CHAP. V.

Verse 1. Belshazzar the king made a great feast] This chapter is

out of its place, and should come in after the seventh and eighth.

There are difficulties in the chronology. After the death of

Nebuchadnezzar, Evil-merodach his son ascended the throne of

Babylon. Having reigned about two years, he was slain by his

brother-in-law, Neriglissar. He reigned four years, and was

succeeded by his son Laborosoarchod, who reigned only nine months.

At his death Belshazzar the son of Evil-merodach, was raised to

the throne, and reigned seventeen years, and was slain, as we read

here, by Cyrus, who surprised and took the city on the night of

this festivity. This is the chronology on which Archbishop Usher,

and other learned chronologists, agree; but the Scripture mentions

only Nebuchadnezzar, Evil-merodach, and Belshazzar, by name; and

Jeremiah, Jer 27:7, expressly says, "All nations shall serve him

(Nebuchadnezzar,) and his son (Evil-merodach,) and his son's son

(Belshazzar,) until the very time of his land come;" i.e., till

the time in which the empire should be seized by Cyrus. Here there

is no mention of Neriglissar nor Laborosoarchod; but as they were

usurpers, they might have been purposely passed by. But there

remains one difficulty still: Belshazzar is expressly called the

son of Nebuchadnezzar by the queen mother, Da 5:11: "There is a

man in thy kingdom, in whom is the spirit of the holy gods: and in

the days of THY FATHER light and understanding and wisdom, like

the wisdom of the gods, was found in him: whom the king

NEBUCHADNEZZAR THY FATHER, the king, I say, thy father, made

master of the magicians." The solution of this difficulty is, that

in Scripture the name of son is indifferently given to sons and

grandsons, and even to great grandsons. And perhaps the

repetition in the above verse may imply this: "The king,

Nebuchadnezzar thy father, the king thy father." The king thy

father's father, and consequently thy grandfather. If it have not

some such meaning as this, it must be considered an idle

repetition. As to the two other kings, Neriglissar and

Laborosoarchod, mentioned by Josephus and Berosus, and by whom

the chronology is so much puzzled, they might have been some petty

kings, or viceroys, or satraps, who affected the kingdom, and

produced disturbances, one for four years, and the other for nine

months; and would in consequence not be acknowledged in the

Babylonish chronology, nor by the sacred writers, any more than

finally unsuccessful rebels are numbered among the kings of those

nations which they have disturbed. I believe the only sovereigns

we can acknowledge here are the following: 1. Nabopolassar; 2.

Nebuchadnezzar; 3. Evil-merodach; 4. Belshazzar; and with this

last the Chaldean empire ended.

To a thousand of his lords] Perhaps this means lords or satraps,

that were each over one thousand men. But we learn from antiquity

that the Persian kings were very profuse in their entertainments;

but it does not follow that the Chaldeans were so too. Besides,

one thousand lords and their appropriate attendants would have

been very inconvenient in a nocturnal assembly. The text, however,

supports the common translation. Literally, "Belshazzar the king

made bread for his lords a thousand; and against the thousand he

drank wine." That is, say some, he was a very great drinker.

Verse 2. Whiles he tasted the wine] He relished it, got heated

by it, and when WINE got fully in, WIT went wholly out; and in

consequence he acted the profane part of which we immediately

read.

Verse 4. And praised the gods of gold] They had gods of all

sorts, and of all metals; with wooden gods, and stone gods,

beside!

Verse 5. Fingers of a man's hand] The fingers were collected

about the style or pen as in the act of writing.

Verse 6. The king's countenance was changed] Here is a very

natural description of fear and terror. 1. The face grows pale; 2.

The mind becomes greatly agitated; 3. Pains seize on the lower

part of the back and kidneys; 4. A universal tremor takes place,

so that the knees smite against each other; 5. And lastly, either

a syncope takes place, or the cry of distress is uttered,

Da 5:7: "The king cried."

Verse 7. Whosoever shall read this writing] He knew it must be

some awful portent, and wished to know what.

Verse 8. They could not read the writing] Because it was in the

pure Hebrew, not the Chaldean character. See below.

Verse 10. The queen-came] This is generally allowed to have been

the widow of Nebuchadnezzar; if so, she was the queen Amiyt,

daughter of Astyages, sister of Darius the Mede, and aunt of

Cyrus, according to Polyhistor, cited by Cedrenus. See Calmet.

Others think that Nitocris was the person who is said to be queen

when Cyrus took the city; and is stated to have been a lady of

eminent wisdom and discretion, and to have had the chief direction

of the public affairs. She was the mother of Labynithus; and, if

this be the same as Belshazzar, she must be the person here

introduced.

Verse 11. Nebuchadnezzar thy father]

See Clarke on Da 5:1.

Verse 16. Dissolve doubts] Untie knots-unbind what is bound. An

expression used in the east to signify a judge of eminent wisdom

and skill.

Verse 17. Let thy gifts be to thyself] They could be of little

use to any, as the city was in a few hours to be taken and

pillaged.

Verse 18. Nebuchadnezzar thy father] Or grandfather, as the

margin reads, Da 5:2.

See Clarke on Da 5:1.

Verse 19. Whom he would he slew] The genuine character of a

despot, whose will is the only rule of his conduct.

Verse 20. He was deposed from his kingly throne] Became insane;

and the reins of government were taken out of his hands.

Verse 22. Hast not humbled thine heart] These judgments and

mercies have had no good effect upon thee.

Verse 23. But hast lifted up thyself against the Lord] And the

highest evidence of this rebellion was, the profaning the sacred

vessels of the Lord's house.

Verse 24. Then was the part of the hand sent] This was the

filling up of the cup of thy iniquity; this last act made thee

ripe for destruction.

Verse 25. And this is the writing] Had the words been written in

the Chaldean character, every wise man there, every one that could

read the alphabet of his own language, could have read and

interpreted them. Let it be observed,-1. That the character which

we now call Hebrew is the Chaldean character. 2. That the true

Hebrew character is that which we call the Samaritan. 3. Daniel

could easily read this, for it was the character used by the Jews

previously to the Babylonish captivity. 4. It appears that it was

simply on account of the strangeness of the character that the

Chaldeans could not read it.

I shall set down the words in both characters, by which the

least learned reader may see that it was quite possible that one

might be well known, while the other might be unintelligible.

Hebrew

Samaritan

[Samaritan]

In ancient times, no doubt, these letters differed more from

each other than they appear to do now; for we know that the

Samaritan on ancient coins, though radically the same, differs

very much from that now used in printing.

It should be observed, that each word stands for a short

sentence; mene signifies NUMERATION; tekel,

WEIGHING; and peres, DIVISION. And so the Arabic translates

them. [Arabic] mokeeson, measured; [Arabic] mewzonon, weighed;

[Arabic] mokesoomon, divided. All the ancient Versions, except the

Syriac, read the words simply Mene, Tekel, Phares, as they are

explained in the following verses; without the repetition of Mene,

and without the conjunction vau, and plural termination,

in, in Peres.

Verse 29. Clothed Daniel with scarlet] argevana, more

probably with purple. The gold chain about the neck was an emblem

of magisterial authority. It is often thus mentioned in Scripture.

Verse 30. In that night was Belshazzar-slain.] Xenophon says, he

was despatched by two lords, Gadatas and Gobrias, who went over to

Cyrus, to avenge themselves of certain wrongs which Belshazzar had

done them. We have already seen that Cyrus entered the city by the

bed of the Euphrates, which he had emptied, by cutting a channel

for the waters, and directing them into the marshy country.

Verse 31. Darius the Median took the kingdom] This is supposed

to be the same as Cyaxares, son of Astyages and maternal uncle of

Cyrus, to whom he gave the throne of Babylon, after himself had

had the honour of taking the city.

Daniel speaks nothing of the war that raged between the

Babylonians and the Medes; but Isaiah speaks particularly of it,

Isa. xiii., xiv., xlv., xlvi., xlvii.; and so does Jeremiah, Jer.

l., li. I need not add, that it is largely spoken of by profane

authors. The Medes and Persians were confederates in the war; the

former under Darius, the latter under Cyrus. Both princes are

supposed to have been present at the taking of this city. Mandane,

daughter of Astyages, was mother of Cyrus, and sister to Cyaxares.

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